The Old Stagedriver`s Yosemite Yarns (1962) by Laurence Degnan


The Old Stagedriver`s Yosemite Yarns (1962) by Laurence Degnan
Next: contents
The Old Stagedriver’s Yosemite Yarns (1962) by Laurence Degnan and Douglass
How the Firefall Began
McCauley’s Chicken
The Rattlesnake Tree
The First Climb Up Half Dome
Rough Rider
Galen Dug His Grave
One Down, Two Down
Music Over the Mountain
The Shooting of Dick Whorton
Frost’s Red Whiskers
Let’s Not be Hasty!
Shadow Shows
Up Half Dome on Two Apricots
Johnny Brown and the Watermelon
Down the Mountain in a Gold Pan
The Injuns Killed Boston
Lembert’s Murder
How the Locust Trees Came
Notes for the Historian
Cover with stagedriver Eddie Webb
About the Authors
Laurence V. Degnan was born February 14, 1884. He is the son of Yosemite pioneers John and Bridget Degnan. In the 1890s his parents
established a family-ran bakery in the Old Upper Village in Yosemite Valley. The family moved their deli to the new Yosemite Village in
1956. The new A-frame building bankrupted their family business and they sold the business to the Yosemite Park and Curry Company
in 1974. Laurence Degnan died in San Francisco August 13, 1963. For more information, see “Degnan Bakery” and “John Degnan
Bakery and Store,” in One Hundred Years in Yosemite (1947) by Carl P. Russell.
For biographies about Douglass Hubbard, see
• John Bingaman, Guardians of the Yosemite (1961), p. 114.
• Allan Shields, (PDF) “Whatever Happend to Doug Hubbard,” Yosemite Association (Spring 2003), pp. 8-11.
Bibliographical Information
Laurence V. Degnan (1884-1963) and Douglass H. Hubbard (Douglass Hopwood Hubbard) (1918-), The Old Stagedriver’s Yosemite
Yarns (Fresno, California: Awani Press, 1961), Illustrated by Ed Vella. Copyright 1961 Douglass H. Hubbard. LCCN 62002091. 25
pages. Illustrated. 28 cm. Bound in white paper wrappers with a color photograph on the front cover and illustration on the back cover.
Library of Congress call number F868.Y6 D4.
Digitized by Dan Anderson, May 2006, from a copy at San Diego Public Library. These files may be used for any non-commercial
purpose, provided this notice is left intact.
—Dan Anderson,
Next: contents
How the Fire fall Began
McCauley’s Chicken
The Rattlesnake Tree
The First Climb Up Half Dome
Rough Rider
Galen Dug His Grave
One Down, Two Down
Music Over the Mountain
The Shooting of Dick Whorton
Frost’s Red Whiskers
Let’s Not Be Hasty
Shadow Shows
Up Half Dome on Two Apricots
Down the Mountain in a Gold Pan
The Injuns Killed Boston
Lembert’s Murder
How the Locust Trees Came
Laurence Degnan
Douglass Hubbard
Illustrated by
Ed Vella
Printed in the United States of America
By the Awani Press, P. O. Box 1971, Fresno, California
All Rights Reserved
Copyright 1961 Douglass H. Hubbard
THE OLD stagecoach driver pointed his pipe at the wisp of smoke rising from Glacier Point. “See that smoke? They’re gettin’ ready
for tonight’s firefall. Takes a couple of hours for for the fir bark to burn down to embers they can shove over. Want to know how it all
got started? Well, nobody remembers for sure but here’s one interestin’ possibility.
“Quite a few years ago, back in the 1870’s, a feller named James McCauley built a hotel (which they’re still usin’) up there on Glacier
Point. So’s folks could get up there from Yosemite Valley he and John Conway built the Four Mile Trail. Things were goin’ fine but one
night somethin’ went wrong. McCauley had made a blazin’ camp fire out on the point but his guests got cold or didn’t show up for some
reason. At any rate it made old Jim pretty sore, after goin’ to all that trouble. Without thinkin’ much he kicked the fire over the cliff.
“Some campers here in the valley happened to be lookin’ up and they saw the burnin’ logs tumblin’ and cascadin’ down the cliff. Later
some of them told McCauley what a pretty sight it was and begged him to do it again. Jim saw some possibilities, havin’ an eye for
business. When there were folks in the valley he or one of his boys would come down the Four Mile Trail to see if the campers wanted
a “private” firefall. If some did they would puff back up and get things ready.
“They had some humdingers, too, with great big burnin’ logs and gunnysacks soaked in kerosene. Now and then just to liven things
up a bit they would lower dynamite bombs over the cliff. The McCauley twins, John and Fred, got to keep the money they collected,
but they worked hard for it!
“Later on, after David and ‘Mother’ Curry started the Curry Campin’ Company in 1899 Mr. Curry used to call up to the point—he had
a powerful voice—‘Let the fire fall!’ and over she’d come. The Yosemite Park and Curry Company’s been doin it almost every summer
since though the old folks have all been gone for a long time now.”
DID YOU EVER hear the story about McCauley’s famous chicken?” As he spoke the driver pulled a faded newspaper clipping from
his pocket. “I can’t tell the story half as well as Derrick Dodd. He was a writer on the San Francisco Post and a first class yarn-spinner.
This is what he had to say about looking down from Glacier Point back in 1882:
‘It is something to stop the beating of a chamois’ heart to lean over the iron railing set between two verge-topping boulders on
the peak’s brink, and glance down into the bottomless, awful gulf below. It causes spiders of ice to crawl down one’s spine,
and the hair of one of the party, whose hat happened to be off, as he bent over the rail, suggested an actor pulling the string
of a “fright wig” in a minstrel ghost scene.
As a part of the usual programme, we experimented as to the time taken by different objects in reaching the bottom of the cliff.
An ordinary stone tossed over remained in sight an incredibly long time, but finally vanished somewhere about the middle
distance. A handkerchief with a stone tied in the corner, was visible perhaps a thousand feet deeper, but even a large empty box
watched by a field glass could not be traced to its concussion with the valley floor. Finally the landlord appeared on the scene,
carrying an antique hen under his arm. This, in spite of the terrified ejaculations and entreaties of the ladies, he deliberately
threw over the cliff’s edge. A rooster might have gone thus to his doom in stoic silence but the sex of this unfortunate bird
asserted itself the moment it started on its awful journey into space. With an ear-piercing cackle that grew gradually fainter
as it fell, the poor creature shot downward, now beating the air with ineffectual wings, and now frantically clawing at the
very wind, that slanted her first this way and then that, the hapless fowl shot down, down, until it became a mere fluff of
feathers no larger than a quail. Then it dwindled to a wren’s size, disappeared, then again dotted the sight a moment as a pin’s
point, and then—it was gone.
After drawing a long breath all round, the women folks pitched into the hen’s owner with redoubled zest. But the genial
McCauley shook his head knowingly, and replied: “Don’t be alarmed about that chicken, ladies. She’s used to it. She goes
over that cliff every day during the season!”
And, sure enough, on our way back we met the old hen about half way up the trail, calmly picking her way home. Then only
did we realize that we had been wasting our sympathy on an ironclad spring chicken of the regular Palace Hotel breed.”
STAGECOACH DRIVERS were a breed all to themselves. Most were gentle and polite but tough as whang-leather. And some of the
best story tellers the world has ever known were included in their numbers. Matter of fact, they took pride in tryin’ to outdo one another
in tellin’ the biggest lie. They were so sincere in tellin’ these lies that more often than not their passengers swallered them, hook, line
and sinker.
“One favorite story centered around a big old tree which stood up on the Wawona Road near the old Eleven Mile Change Station, not
far from what we call Chinquapin today. This old tree had a clump of branches up near the top, and a squirrel had made its nest there.
The tree had been hit by lightening, and this left a wide, spiral gosh around it, from top to bottom. Usually a tourist, often the one riding
in the shotgun seat beside the driver, would ask what caused the peculiar groove. That was what the drivers would be waitin’ for, and
they would explain with much arm wavin’ how for years a couple of old rattlesnakes had had a nest up in the top of the tree and that
they had worn the groove carryin’ food up to their little ones!”
MOST OF Yosemite’s cliffs have been climbed now,” said the old stagedriver as he pushed his Stetson back with one thumb— “been
up a few myself. But one they said could never be climbed was Half Dome, up yonder. Today there are a couple of sturdy steel cables
to help you up the last thousand feet or so. But when George Anderson’s curiosity got the best of him back in 1875 and he decided that
he was going to have a look at the top, the rocks on the backside were slick as glass.
“Anderson was a good blacksmith and he had plenty of grit. He forged eyebolts out of iron. Then by drillin’ a hole in the rock and
drivin’ in the bolt, and then threadin’ a rope through it, he was able to inch his way up. I say he had grit because it often meant hookin’
one big toe over a bolt to help hold him up while he drilled the hole for the next. One slip or loose bolt and he would have gone to his
death on the rocks below. Took him about a week to work up to the top but he finally made it. Know what he found on top? A level spot
big enough to have a stagecoach race! Captain Anderson’s old cabin is out at the Pioneer History Center at Wawona and he’s buried
in the Pioneer Cemetery, almost in the shadow of Half Dome.”
THINGS REACHED a fever pitch in Yosemite Valley in 1903 when word came that President Roosevelt was coming. Some fancy
preparations were made. John Degnan and Commissioner Metson even made some dynamite ‘salutes’ to set off.
“But Teddy had ideas of his own. He had come to talk to John Muir, so the two met at the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees and then sorta
sneaked off into the high country with Yosemite’s first two park rangers, Archie Leonard and Charley Leidig. They rode up over Glacier
Point and down by Vernal and Nevada Falls. But the president wasn’t interested in socializin’ and when they got to the Old Village in
Yosemite Valley Teddy paused just long enough to pay his respects to the people gathered there, then trotted his horse across Sentinel
Bridge, commentin’ that he wanted to pitch camp that night in Bridalveil Meadow.
“They tell of one scene that made some of the local folks reach for their handkerchiefs. One little girl, gussied up and pretty as a picture,
stood beside the road holding out a bouquet of flowers she had picked for the president. When he looked down and saw her he reined
in his horse, dismounted, and picked her up. He said something softly to her, kissed her and was on his way again. Someone said he
had just lost a little girl of his own.
“Well, they camped in Bridalveil Meadow— there’s a sign to mark the spot today. Charley Leidig was sorta chief cook and bottle washer
and he said that he spread forty blankets on the ground for the president’s bed. Bet he had a hard time decidin’ where to crawl in!”
GALEN CLARK, one of the beloved men of Yosemite, was 42 when he came to Yosemite to die. He had been in the goldfields when
the doctors told him that he hadn’t long to live— some sort of trouble with his lungs. But Galen was the kind of feller that had to keep
busy so while waitin’ to meet his maker he got a lot accomplished. He dug his grave (the old timers say it was lined with broken bottles).
He carved his name on a granite headstone, then planted some nice young sequoia trees around it. Galen loved trees. He was one of the
first to explore the Mariposa Grove, and he built a cozy little cabin in the midst of those great trees.
“After President Lincoln set the Yosemite apart back in 1864, Galen was appointed the first guardian, and he was one of the best guides
we ever had. Everyone liked him. He built the original hotel at Wawona, right where the present hotel sits—called it ‘Clark’s Station’.
And he started the old covered bridge which you can see out at Wawona today—not many of those left.
“Yosemite’s climate must have agreed with Galen Clark—he was 96 when he passed away in 1910. They laid him to rest right where
he wanted to be, in the cemetery in Yosemite Valley. You can see the headstone he carved, and his sequoia trees are doin’ fine too.”
ONE RAINY afternoon in the 1880’s John Degnan and Martin Sheehan, wearing bright yellow raincoats—we called ’em ‘slickers’—
were patching holes in the road between the old Stoneman House and Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. Pretty soon the rain started
coming down in bucketfulls so they took shelter under a big old black oak tree.
“A party of tourists was returnin’ along the same road from a horseback trip to Nevada Fall. They were strung out along the road, movin’
at a pretty good lope, hurryin’ to get out of the rain. The first horse shied when he saw the two yellow ghosts looming out of the dark
shrubbery, dumping his rider smack dab in the middle of the road. Horse number two and then the third did likewise. Before the men
could shed their raincoats and go to the rescue a half-dozen riders, dethroned one by one, were piled up like ragdolls in the road!”
TELEGRAMS WERE unknown critters in Yosemite in the early days. But in 1872 communications improved quite a bit when Harlow
Street and a couple of friends ran a telegraph line into the valley from Sonora. Bill Sell, the first operator, told me that the wire they
stretched was salvaged from an old flume, then unstranded and spliced.
“Cyrus Field, president of Western Union, took sick once when he was visitin’ in Yosemite Valley. Bill Sell nursed him along and to
sorta show his appreciation Mr. Field ordered his people to close all the telegraph switches from Yosemite to New York so Bill could
have the pleasure of talkin’, with his telegraph key, clean across the country.
“In 1882 The Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Company at Tioga ran a telephone line across the crest of the Sierra, from Lundy to
Bennettville. They claimed it was the world’s highest telephone. I don’t know quite how they worked it but somehow this line must
have been tied in with the one from Lundy to Bodie on one end, and the Yosemite-Bodie Telephone on the other, to make a trans-Sierra
hookup, ’cause Jack Leidig told me that it was great sport for the kids in Yosemite Volley to listen on the old hand-crank phone at the
Sentinel Hotel to the dance hall music bein’ played in the honky-tonks clear across the mountains in Bodie.”
LEONIDAS G. WHORTON was a pretty important person in Yosemite Valley in the early days. He was Justice of the Peace and often
was Grand Marshal in the local parades. His. friends all called him “Dick”. On April 4, 1887 Abel Mann shot and killed him at Dick’s
house at Cascades, a few miles below the Valley.
“Bad blood between the men began with the Civil War, then flared up when Mann married Mattie Atkins, a cousin or some sort of
kin of Whorton’s, with whom he had been living. Charley Leidig, ridin’ down with the mail saw Dick lyin’ dead in the dirt in front
of his house. After the shootin’ Mann took off up the hill but ran into Jim McCauley, who talked him into turnin’ himself in to the
sheriff. They tried him for murder down in Marposa. The jury called it self defense though some folks said that Whorton was shot from
behind. Doc Gallison took Dick’s skull down so the jury could see the bullet holes so we don’t know whether all of him is there in
the cemetery in Yosemite or not.
“After he was acquitted Abel and Mattie moved to Raymond. One day they had a fight and he cut her throat from ear to ear. She didn’t
die but this time he did. The posse chasin’ him said he shot himself as they were closin’ in on him. Funny thing, though — all the broken
glass from the windows of the cabin was on the inside of the cabin!”
ONE SUMMER DAY about the turn of the century Henry Frost, the Yosemite butcher, decided that he was tired of his white whiskers.
A drinkin’ pal by the name of Zickafoos cooperated with enthusiasm by painting ‘em red with tough, weatherproof barn paint. Frost
repented the next morning, but the harder he scrubbed, first with soap, then kerosene, and finally turpentine, the brighter and redder his
whiskers seemed to get. Walking down the road a while later Frost caught one of his friends turning around for a second gape. He was
pretty indignant and wanted to know what the feller thought he was starin’ at!”
ANOTHER DAY our friend Frost (yep, sorry to say he’d been drinkin’ again) decided that life was not worth living. He begged his
friend John Baptista Baccigalupi—everyone called him ‘Bat’—to shoot him. Bat obediently took up his old Winchester and called out
in businesslike tones, ‘All right, where do you want me to shoot you? Shall I blow your head off, or put a hole in your belly?’ Frost
hesitated a moment and then said, ‘I guess there’s no hurry. Let’s wait ’till morning.’”
ONE OF THE most popular of the Yosemite guides was Nathan Phillips—everybody called him “Pike”. When he was a youngster back
in Tennessee he had diphtheria or somethin’ of the sort which had left his voice so that he couldn’t speak above a hoarse whisper.
“Pike was always polite and respectful but never above puttin’ someone in his place when the situation called for it. One day he was
takin’ a tourist party from the old Sentinel Hotel in Yosemite Valley up the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. In those days the ladies rode
side-saddles even over the roughest trails. One old gal in particular was rather snooty, all dressed up in fancy duds. During a rest stop
at Union Point she called out sorta sharply to Pike: ‘Guide, there is something wrong with this stirrup; it hurts my foot.’ Pike sauntered
up to her horse, examined the stirrup carefully, then announced in his gutteral whisper, ‘There’s nothing wrong with the stirrup—yer
Burned foot’s just too big!
“Seems a lot of jokes used to center around English tourists. Don’t know just why it was this way unless it was because of the funny
duds they wore. One day an Englishman tried to get Pike to take him out to hunt grizzly bears. But Pike would have no part of it. The
visitor was persistent — so was Pike. Exasperated, the Englishman finally demanded an explanation, so Pike told him:
Seems that Pike once guided a gentleman from London on a grizzly hunt. This gent was armed with the latest in repeatin’ rifles
while Pike had an old single shot. ‘Twasn’t long until they saw a grizzly. Pike raised his rifle and fired, but only creased Old
Bruin—made him mad as a hornet. The Englishman, instead of shootin’, tossed down his rifle and climbed like a squirrel up
the closest tree. As the old bear charged, Pike had just time to throw himself down flat on the ground and play dead. Someone
had told him that a grizzly wouldn’t touch a dead man. But his spine froze as the huge bear approached, huffin’ and puffin’.
Old Bruin sniffed him from head to foot, then rolled him over with one great paw. Just as he was expectin’ to have his neck
snapped by the powerful jaws the old bear put his nose down close and whispered in his ear, ‘Pike, remember this: don’t ever
go huntin’ with a bloody Englishman!’
“Ladies in distress were a common occurrence to Pike. He always wore a big hat, and it was useful for more things than carryin’ water
to his mule, Brigham. Like I was tellin’ you, the ladies rode sidesaddle back in those days. This meant that the lady had both of her legs
on the left side, with her left foot in a single stirrup and her other leg hooked over a horn above it. Her long skirts were draped neatly
over all, so for all practical purposes the lady had no legs. On another saddle party Pike was guidin’, the group stopped for a rest and to
take in the view. One impatient young lady started to dismount by herself. She reached the ground all right, but her skirts didn’t—they
remained hung on the saddle! Turning his bock modestly Pike held up his big hat to hide the young lady while she reorganized herself!
“They buried Pike in the old cemetery at Wawona, just a stone’s throw from the Pioneer History Center. Folks say that this same lady
came back years later and put up his headstone, for the ‘only true gentleman’ she had ever met!”
“Sam Miller once took Pike to see San Francisco. Put him up at the old Palace Hotel, which was one of the world’s swankiest before the
Great Fire. Pike wasn’t used to such fancy campin’ but he didn’t say much as the bellman took him up the elevator to his room. As he
left he told Pike to ring if he needed anything. In about two minutes Pike rang. When the bellman returned Pike said, ‘Can you get me
an axe?’ ‘I think so, but why do you need an axe?’ Pike replied, ‘I want to blaze a trail so’s I can find my way outa this durned place!’”
HOTELS WERE pretty primitive things in the early days in Yosemite. Folks leavin’ the Hutchings House, which stood close to where
the Sentinel Bridge is, would often josh with visitors comin’ in. They’d tell ‘em that if they put up at that particular hotel (and they
had no choice) they should watch out for thieves and always be careful to lock their doors. Much to their surprise when they checked
in at the hostelry they would find that the rooms were separated by walls made out of thin muslin cloth and that there were no such
conveniences as doors!
“They used to have some mighty interestin’ shadow shows on those muslin walls until John Muir got enough wood sawed so they could
nail up some real walls!”
EVERYONE TO his own taste in food, I always say. As for me, I eat pretty hearty when I’m in the mountains, especially if I’m doin’
hard work. But I can remember one little old maiden lady from back east who didn’t feel that way. She was plum agin’ eatin’ any sort
of food ’ceptin fruit.and vegetables. She felt so strongly about it that she tried to convert everyone else ridin’ on the stagecoach with
her to the same idea.
“Lots of Yosemite tourists climbed to the top of Half Dame in those days and she was one of ’em. Nothin’ wrong with that ’ceptin’ she
kept braggin’ that all she had for nourishment on the 16-mile trip was two died apricots! Got sorta tiresome about the sixth time you
heard it. But she got her comeuppance when we got back to where we met the train. We all were eatin’ in the railroad dining room. One
of the passengers tapped me on the shoulder and pointed. There in the corner sat our little old lady, wolfing down a huge beefsteak!”
JOHNNY BROWN was a full-blooded Yosemite Indian. He was the son of old “Buckshot Bill” Brown, who was raised in Yosemite
valley before the white man came.
“One day Johnny was sitting on the porch of the Old Village Store, getting ready to go to work on a huge watermelon. Someone—perhaps
it was Julius Boysen, the photographer— stopped to talk to Johnny before going into the store:
‘Hello, Johnny. You going to eat all of that big watermelon?’
‘Yep’, said Johnny, ‘me eat ’um.’
‘But won’t you have a terrible stomach ache?’
‘Yep, me gettum stomach ache. But he don’t last long.’”
OLD HANK WILLIAMS, rest his soul, was one of the most popular drivers to ever crack a whip on the Yosemite run. He used to tell
a tear-jerkin’ tale about the death of his identical twin, Harry.
“Seems the boys were orphaned at an early age and reared apart. Since childhood they had not seen each other. Hank had been drivin’ for
years on the Yosemite run and Harry had been prospectin’ up along the northern Mother Lode. Finally the brothers arranged a meetin’.
“Comin’ out at the head of a thousand foot high avalanche scar, Harry saw the dust of his brother’s stagecoach, way below. Was he
too late? Fearin’ he would be and showin’ true western resourcefulness he sat down on his miner’s gold pan and tobogganed down that
chute of loose rock. Seems old Harry understood the law of gravity but plum forgot about the law of friction.
“Tears would come to Hank’s eyes whenever he retold the sad experience: ‘Yes, sir, all I ever found of my long-lost brother were the
copper rivets from his overalls, in the bottom of his red-hot gold pan.’”
THE OLD DRIVER chuckled. “We used to have some bang-up celebrations on the Fourth of July. The summer of ’97 or ’98 the folks
living in Yosemite Valley passed the hat and brought in a whole big box full of fireworks— every kind you can think of. The kids
were pretty excited by the night of the 4th when everyone gathered over near the meadow near where the little old chapel stands now,
to watch the big show.
“The fireworks were all in one big box and Jack Leidig and some others tore the lid off and got ready to start things goin’. They called
Frank Lancey over to give them a hand, and that’s just what he did. Pickin’ up a Roman candle he lit it with his cigar, and then the fun
began! The first burst from the Roman candle didn’t shoot into the air as it should have done, but dropped smack into the box where the
other stuff was. Whambo! Fire started shootin’ in every direction and folks was runnin’ like scared cats. Then from behind every rock
and tree heads started pokin’ out to watch the skyrockets go skittering across the meadow, while salutes, cartwheels, firecrackers and
colored fire went in every direction! Reckon there never was such a show! Luckily the skyrockets roared alongside rather than into the
crowd, or someone might have been hurt. Someone heard one of the kids remark that he never had known the 4th to come and go so fast!”
DOWN CASCADES way about seven or eight miles below Yosemite Valley there’s a big rock with a flat side on it. If you take a good
look you’ll see the outlines of an old fireplace on it. That and a headboard in the cemetery in Yosemite Valley are about all that are left
of George Ezra Boston, who used to be tollkeeper on the old Coulterville Road.
“Everybody liked Boston but somehow he got on the wrong side of Piute George, a renegade Indian who was runnin’ from the sheriff
and holed up not far from Boston’s station. One evenin’ George was passin’ Boston’s place with a couple of friends, about suppertime.
The tollkeeper, bein’ a generous gent invited the Indians in to eat with him. This they did and while Boston had his back turned, cleanin’
up the dishes, Piute George shot him. Another Indian cut his throat, just to make sure he was dead. Then they set fire to his cabin to
hide what they had done.
“Ol’ Piute George really took to the rocks after that. A couple of the local folks finally coaxed him down by sendin’ up another Indian
and gettin’ him drunk. They were staked out and waitin’ for him as he came slinkin’ along the trail and when he got close one of them
let him have it in the backside with both barrels of a shotgun.
“Doesn’t seem possible that he lived through it but Mrs. Leidig and some of the Indian women nursed him back to health. I heard they
cleaned out his wounds by runnin’ long feathers dipped in bear grease through them! He was tried for murder and sent to San Quentin
for the rest of his life.”
THE OLD DRIVER cut off a plug of tobacco with his penknife and tucked it carefully into one corner of his cheek. “You ever been up
to Tuolumne meadows? “Well, one of the landmarks there is called Lembert Dome. Now, John Lembert was what I’d call a real pioneer.
He started to homestead those meadows, way up at the top of the Sierra. Built himself a little cabin that’s still standin’, not far from
Soda Springs. Used to pass it all the time when I was drivin’ the Great Sierra Wagon Road— that’s what we call the Tioga Road Today.
“I always liked the old boy, though some people were afraid of him because he had long whiskers and a sort of wild look in his eye. Old
John tried all sorts of ways of makin’ a living. Herded a flock of those fancy curly-qued sheep—do you call them karakul?—and lost the
whole bunch when he didn’t get them down to the foothills in time and got caught in a snowstorm. He was pretty smart, too. The scientific
fellers even named a moth after him, cause in his spare time he collected bugs and butterflies and lizards and sold them to colleges.
“But money was his downfall. Word got around that he had $600 in gold cached away in his little winter cabin near El Portal, and
someone murdered poor harmless old John for it. They buried him right beside his cabin and the gold may be right there too. Folks
say the killers never found it.”
EVER BEEN in Yosemite Valley in autumn? It’s one of the prettiest seasons of all.” The old stagedriver reminisced, “If you have
you’ve probably noticed that one of the first trees to turn golden yellow is the locust. Well, you can thank old Jack Anderson, ’cause
in a way he paid for them with his life.
“Jack was a stagedriver who had the misfortune of being kicked in the head and killed by one of his horses. Old timers say that he was
buried over near the foot of the Four Mile Trail, where the first Old Village used to be. They stuck his whip in the ground to mark his
grave. It must have been a fresh switch of locust he had cut on the way up, and it took root.
“Anderson’s body was moved later to the cemetery, but you’ll find locust trees growin’ in many parts of Yosemite Valley. Most of them
though are around where his whip was stuck, —where he was first buried.”
THE OLD STAGEDRIVER scratched his whiskers with a gnarled finger and said, “Well, seems like I’ve been takin a lot of your time
with this yarn-spinnin’ of mine, but let me tell you one more thing before you go. You know, I reckon that there have been more holdups
on the Ahwahnee Grade, down a ways below the Wawona Hotel, than any other place in these hills. One lone bandit held up seven
stages at one time—waitin’ for each to come around the hairpin turn, then motionin’ it politely into place with his sawed-off shotgun.
“Probably the most agreeable of these road agents was the one who let a lady tourist take his snapshot while he was holdin’ up Walter
Farnsworth’s stage. Guess she wanted to have proof for the folks back home that she had been in a real holdup. That feller was a slippery
one — tied homemade trackers on his feet so he left tracks like a horse. They found the trackers but never found him.”
“I reckon the most embarassin’ was the time when a robber held up an entire troop of cavalry as they were cornin’ up for summer duty
patrollin’ Yosemite National Park. You probably know that the cavalry did that for quite a few years before they had national park
rangers. Seems the soldiers had been shootin’ up the little towns in the foothills—they rode their horses all the way from the Presidio in
San Francisco—so they took all their ammunition away from them and put it in one of the quartermaster wagons. Imagine their red faces
at ridin’ up on the tail end of one of these holdups and not havin’ a cartridge among them. By the time they broke out the ammunition
the bandit was over in the next county!
“Well, happy travelin’ to you, and keep your eyes peeled for these bad men I’ve been tellin’ you about!”
Like most folk tales, those of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada have been handed down from person to person and mouth to mouth and
the original narrator often cannot be traced. The authors have gone as far back as possible to identify sources; these are listed below.
Some tales in this booklet were heard by Mr. Degnan when he was a small boy living in Yosemite before the turn of the century. Others
were told Mr. Hubbard during the time he served as Chief Park Naturalist in Yosemite National Park. The Degnan Letters and others
listed below are now preserved in the Research Library of the National Park Service’s Yosemite Museum.
LVD - Laurence Degnan; DHH - Douglass Hubbard; YNN - Yosemite Nature Notes
How the Firefall Began: LVD from Jules McCauley, letter of January 24, 1959 to DHH; Mariposa Gazette, September 14, 1928.
McCauley’s Chicken: Frank Harrison Gassaway (pseudonym, Derrick Dodd), Daily Evening Post, San Francisco, August 12, 1882.
The Rattlesnake Tree: LVD from Johnny White, Wawona driver. LVD to DHH, January 24, 1959. DHH from Harriet Bruce Harris,
January 29, 1958.
The First Climb Up Half Dome: Carl P. Russell, 100 Years in Yosemite, Yosemite, 1959. LVD to DHH, January 24, 1959.
Rough Rider: Charles Leidig to Ralph Anderson, YNN May, 1951; Jack Leidig to DHH; LVD to DHH, October 21, 1957.
Galen Dug His Grave: Carl P. Russell, op. cit. LVD to DHH October 29, 1957, January 24, 1959.
One Down, Two Down: LVD from father, John Degnan; LVD to DHH, October 27, 1957, January 24, 1959.
Music Over the Mountain: Jack Leidig to DHH. William M. Sell, YNN June 1954.
The Shooting of Dick Whorton: LVD to DHH, October 21, 1957.
Frost’s Red Whiskers and Let’s Not Be Hasty: LVD to DHH, October 21, 1957, January 24, 1959.
Pike: LVD to DHH, October 29, 1957, January 24, 1959; Harriet Bruce Harris to DHH, January 29, 1958.
Shadow Shows: Carl P. Russell, op. cit. LVD to DHH, January 24, 1959.
Up Half Dome on Two Dried Apricots: Charles M. Goethe to DHH, November 5, 1958.
Johnny Brown and the Watermelon: LVD from John Degnan. LVD to DHH, October 21, 1957, January 24, 1959.
Down the Mountain in a Gold Pan: Al Sleeper, driver, to Charles M. Goethe to DHH, November 5, 1958.
Fireworks: LVD to DHH, October 21, 1957, January 24, 1959.
The Injuns Killed Boston: Mariposa Gazette, August 21, 1875; LVD from Jules McCauley; YNN May 1959.
Lembert’s Murder: Jack Leidig to DHH; William E. Colby, YNN September 1949; John V. Ferretti, YNN September 1948.
How the Locust Trees Came: Ralph Anderson from Jack Leidig to DHH; Lloyd Brubaker, LVD, Richard Jackson, YNN May 1959.
Holdup!: Foley’s Yosemite Tourist reprinted in YNN February 1955; telegram sent to SF Examiner by A. G. Vieth Austrian Consul;
John C. Shay, Twenty Years in the Backwoods of California, Boston, 1923.
The authors are indebted to the photographers, long gone, whose works add much to the interest of this collection of stories. They
include: Page 5, Walker. Page 6, top, Katherine Dexter; center, Underwood and Underwood; bottom, Boysen. Page 7, top, Watkins;
center, Houseworth; bottom Boysen. Page 12, left, Bradley and Rulofson; right, Fiske. Page 13, Bancroft Library. Page 14, Weed. Page
21, Fiske. Page 23, holdup, Wilkinson; telegram from SF Examiner. All photographs are through the courtesy of interested donors or
the National Park Service and are now part of the collections of the Yosemite Museum, Yosemite National Park.
Also From the Awani Press:
Fran Hubbard, A Day With Tupi, an Indian Boy of the Sierra
Fran Hubbard, Animal Friends of the Sierra
Fran Hubbard, Animal Friends of the Northwest
Douglass Hubbard, Ghost Mines of Yosemite
Douglass Hubbard, In Old Virginia City
Douglass Hubbard, A National Park Adventure